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Industrial Workers of the World

INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD

INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD (IWW) had a major impact on the American labor movement, despite its rotating membership and controversial methods. The activities of its members, called "Wobblies" for the "W" in its acronym, entered the folklore of an underclass of hoboes and migratory labor.

The unprecedented American economic development in the late nineteenth century expanded the factory system and mechanization. The new kinds of industries subsumed the labor previously performed by skilled craftspeople and required an increase in the hired workforce. To meet the need for workers, industries relied heavily on migration from rural America and massive immigration from overseas. Proponents of American labor organizations faced a complex and layered workforce in an industrial environment that had outgrown the existing form of unionism. By the early 1880s, the Knights of Labor had organized hundreds of thousands of workers of all sorts into a fraternal, cooperative order that lacked a clear focus on the workplace. By 1886, skilled workers who had such a focus formed the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which was preoccupied with the defensive protection of "craft unionism" and its privileges.

As the panic of 1893 created conditions conducive to unionization, three notable currents adamantly urged what was called "industrial unionism." First, ideologically motivated working-class radicals launched the Socialist Trade and Labor Alliance (STLA), hoping to follow the success of the German social democracy in organizing new unions. Second, working conditions on the railroads, arguably the most important industry of the age, convinced growing numbers of engineers, firemen, brakemen, switch-men, conductors, porters, and others that they needed to replace or supplement their craft organizations with the common American Railway Union (ARU). In the harsh and often violent circumstances of the Far West, local unions combined into the Western Federation of Miners (WFM). While the STLA largely degenerated into a propaganda vehicle for the Socialist Labor Party, the local, state, and federal authorities intervened with troops to break the ARU in the 1894 Pullman Strike and over the next few years clashed with armed WFM members in bitter disputes at Cripple Creek and Leadville, Colorado, and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Blaming the fraternal and defensive AFL for protecting membership concerns rather than expressing class interests, the tough-minded miners attempted to form the nucleus of a rival general association of workers in conjunction with the Western Labor Union (1898) and the American Labor Union (1902), but those efforts came to naught. Based on the prestige of having led a series of tough campaigns against Colorado employers in 1903 and 1904, the WFM sponsored a January 1905 conference in Chicago that called for a new national union.

On 27 June 1905, the convention gathered in Chicago's Brand Hall. The more than two hundred delegates included Daniel De Leon, the reorganizer of the Socialist Labor Party and the inspiration for the STLA; Eugene Debs, the once-imprisoned president of the old ARU and at the time of the convention the most prominent national spokesperson for the new Socialist Party; the white-haired and aged "Mother" Mary Jones, long an organizer of coal miners in the East; and Lucy Parsons, the mulatto anarchist widow of Albert Parsons, who was judicially murdered only blocks away from Brand Hall almost twenty years earlier over the Haymarket affair. This gathering, which William D. "Big Bill" Haywood of the WFM called


"the Continental Congress of the working-class," launched the IWW.

The AFL, the Knights of Labor, and numerous other unions had started with resolutions discussing a class struggle between capital and labor, but the new movement discussed the subject as a matter of course. "We are here," said Haywood, "to confederate the workers of this country into a working-class movement that shall have for its purpose the emancipation of the working-class from the slave bondage of capitalism." The preamble to the constitution of the IWW stated bluntly: "The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life."

The founders of the IWW were vague about how they might achieve their goals and made no commitment regarding politics. The seriousness of those omissions became evident at the second convention in 1906. There, in the absence of Haywood, Debs, and other prominent founders, De Leon led a successful movement in opposition to what the socialists called the conservative WFM leadership, though, in fact, Vincent St. John and other WFM leaders backed the opposition as well. The movement not only ousted President Charles Sherman but abolished the office itself, assigning William Trautmann as their "general organizer."

Meanwhile, the WFM faced a major crisis. In the closing hours of 1905, someone assassinated the Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg, who had confronted the WFM at Coeur d'Alene. During early 1906, Idaho authorities illegally crossed state lines to kidnap the WFM officials Haywood and Charles Moyer and the prounionist Denver shopkeeper George A. Pettibone. As the WFM debated the factional battle that transformed the IWW, its leaders prepared for a trial (9 May–27 July 1907) that made them an international cause célèbre defended by the famed criminal attorney Clarence Darrow. Their acquittal publicized the new union without resolving its studied ambiguities about politics and power.

In its first years, the IWW organized workers and led strikes from Portland, Oregon, to Skowhegan, Maine. Determined to organize unskilled workers regardless of sex, ethnicity, or race, the IWW rarely won a strong, permanent membership capable of withstanding reversals in many of these communities. Many workers joined to strike and left with its completion. Where other unions had sought to lead, the IWW was led by its own sense of principle and duty to take up workers' grievances. That same mistrust of would-be leaders that had turned out the Sherman regime in 1906 seemed to mandate a repudiation of De Leon's doctrinaire "socialist industrial unionism" at the 1908 convention. The IWW had defined itself by deciding what it was not, embracing a broad spectrum of currents initially and then removing selected ones. By 1908, this process had reduced the membership in the organization to 3,700.

Nevertheless, the IWW was a distinctive labor movement. Under St. John (1908–1915) and later Haywood (1915–1918), the union became what the latter called socialism "with its working clothes on." This new kind of unionism advocated the overthrow of capitalism not at the ballot box, which it mistrusted, but through "direct action" on the job. Rooted in the North American experience, the IWW developed a distinctive version of what was coming to be called "syndicalism" in Europe. It sought to organize all workers into "one big union," a new, democratized, and self-governing power, through the ongoing quest for a consensus in practice. Its version of a labor movement was "the frame of the new in the shell of the old." Using progressively stronger methods of "direct action," workers broke through the shell of capitalist ownership in production and distribution. The process precluded the kinds of legal recognition and contract agreements essential to the "pure and simple" unionism of the AFL.

The IWW approach became a touchstone for the radicals who later gained prominence in socialist circles. Adhering to the IWW vision, William Z. Foster nevertheless insisted on "boring from within" the established AFL unions to win them to socialism. Many young radicals, like James P. Cannon, alternated between functioning as a Wobbly and as a member of the Socialist Party. In the flush of success after the Russian Revolution of 1917, Foster, Cannon, John Reed, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and a number of others associated with the revolutionary goals of the IWW founded the Communist Party, USA, although the party expelled Cannon for criticisms of the Soviet regime rooted in his IWW preoccupations with the democratic standards essential to a future working-class self-government.

Small but militant, the IWW determined to organize some of the most disadvantaged of the unorganized, particularly the unemployed or the marginally and often-migratory employed workers. Farm laborers and other migrant workers regularly traveled by freight train and gathered in the large markets near the rail yards. IWW organizers sought to carry their message of unionism to these workers in the yards and in the railroad cars themselves.

At the time, municipal governments struggled to regulate public life, imposing requirements for special permits to hold meetings and establishing armed police departments to enforce such ordinances. Accusing authorities of placing an admission price on the use of the Bill of Rights, IWW speakers had no alternative but to defy these restrictions, and they faced arrest when they did so. The otherwise powerful IWW base found its real strength in numbers here. As the authorities seized one after another IWW speaker, they found hundreds of un-employed people filling their jails to capacity. The IWW pursued this approach deliberately, waging impressive "free speech fights" at Missoula, Montana (1909); Spokane, Washington (1909–1910); Fresno, California (1910–1911); Aberdeen, South Dakota (1911–1912); San Diego, California (1912); and Kansas City, Missouri (1914).

Wobblies brought the same kind of militancy into its strikes. Perhaps the most successful strike waged by the IWW came in the textile industry in Lawrence, Massachusetts, from 12 January to 14 March 1912. The estimated twenty-three thousand strikers not only represented, with their dependents, about three-fifths of the city's population, they also represented over two dozen nationalities and nearly four dozen languages. Their success despite the odds brought the IWW to national attention.

The IWW doubtlessly began the process that enabled the Congress of Industrial Organizations to successfully establish industrial unions in the 1930s. The IWW organized drives and strikes in steel at McKees Rocks, New Castle, and Butler in Pennsylvania (1909); in silk textiles at Paterson, New Jersey (1913); in rubber at Akron, Ohio (1913); and in automobiles at Detroit, Michigan (1913). Significantly, in 1911–1912, southern veterans of the IWW efforts in the Northwest returned to the Louisiana-Texas border, sparking a series of labor struggles characterized by a distinctive interracial solidarity.


After 1912–1913, IWW activity tended to refocus on the West. The union inspired the "riot" of farm labor at Wheatland, California, in 1913, and miners elbowed the IWW into prominence within the intensely unionist town of Butte, Montana, in 1914 and on the Mesabi Range north of Duluth, Minnesota, in 1916. Activities among the lumberjacks of the Northwest created a large following in western Canada and Washington. These endeavors saw local surges of interest in the IWW that receded after the struggle's close. Membership officially reached around thirty thousand in 1912, but fell to nearly half that in each of the next three years. Wildly fluctuating membership and a base largely among the most transitory workers inspired speculation that as many as 60,000 to 100,000 workers passed through the organization.

Violent repression characterized the history of the IWW. In company towns or work camps, employers ruled under their own law and ruthlessly met any move toward unionization, particularly by an organization that denied their claim to profit. Some city governments sometimes grudgingly conceded unionism a platform due to the moral suasion of the free speech fights. San Diego and other municipalities frankly sought to defeat the free speech fights by sanctioning beatings and torture of jailed unionists who would exercise free speech. Authorities at Salt Lake City arrested and convicted the Swedish-born IWW songwriter Joe Hill of a murder based on so little substantive evidence that it disappeared after his trial. Despite an international defense campaign, Hill was executed in 1915. In Washington State, when Seattle supporters took the public passenger boat Verona to Everett in 1917 for a rally in support of local strikers, armed deputies opened fire on the boat, resulting in over sixty casualties, including a dozen fatalities. Subsequently, Seattle authorities arrested and tried seventy-four of the passengers. So many Wobblies were behind bars together at different points that their hunger strikes and other means won concessions in often unheated and overcrowded jails. Vigilantes assailed not only strikers but their families. In Bisbee, Arizona, twelve hundred men, women, and children were illegally detained, loaded onto cattle cars, and dumped in the desert on 12 July 1917.

Governments at every level turned a blind eye toward extralegal assaults on the IWW, though in the proper progressive fashion, they soon assumed that function themselves. Beginning in 1917, states passed unconstitutional "criminal syndicalist" legislation that made it a crime to advocate self-government through a labor organization. By then the federal authorities had determined to preclude any discussion of the merits of its decision to bring the United States into World War I. On the day after President Woodrow Wilson asked for a declaration of war but before that declaration had been passed, on 3 April 1917, local police escorted "off duty" military to close the IWW headquarters in Kansas City. The action inspired similar attacks in Detroit, Duluth, and other IWW centers. A "mob" in Butte lynched the part-Indian organizer Frank Little from a railroad trestle on 31 July 1917. As in other industrial nations, officials in the United States, frustrated by the constitutional, legal, and cultural checks on their authority, found extralegal means to remove from public discourse those who had broken no law but who disagreed with government policy.

Modern war among similar industrial nations required government involvement in the economy, including the labor movement. The IWW's refusal to participate in contractual wage agreements in this context made it appear treasonable. Aided by what became the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the government arrested, imprisoned, and eventually tried a considerable number of the IWW's leadership. Those behind bars in Chicago; Sacramento, California; Wichita, Kansas; and Omaha, Nebraska, totaled nearly three hundred. Alongside the mechanisms of government, state-sponsored vigilantism continued, as when the American Legion assaulted the IWW hall in Centralia, Washington, on 11 November 1919, murdering Wesley Everest, a distinguished war veteran as well as an IWW member.

The IWW survived the repression, though clearly it did not and could not have done so as the sort of organization that had existed before. The radical unionism of the IWW reemerged briefly in the massive postwar strike wave in 1919, but other organizations had displaced the IWW. Out of jail on bail, Haywood fled to Russia. In some localized industries, notably the docks of Philadelphia, the IWW survived through the 1920s and 1930s by negotiating contracts and functioning as a trade union. As a small group urging more militant unionism and the necessity of "one big union," the IWW survived. The Wobblies' faith in social transformation through class solidarity and their demonstrations of that power provided a legacy that outlasted the later illusions in Soviet Russia.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bird, Stewart, Dan Georgakas, and Deborah Shaffer, comps. Solidarity Forever: An Oral History of the IWW. Chicago: Lake View Press, 1985.

Conlin, Joseph Robert. Bread and Roses Too: Studies of the Wobblies. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1974.

———, ed. At the Point of Production: The Local History of the IWW. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1981.

Dubofsky, Melvyn. We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Foner, Philip S. ed. Fellow Workers and Friends: IWW Free Speech Fights as Told by Participants. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1981.

Hall, Greg. Harvest Wobblies: The Industrial Workers of the World and Agricultural Laborers in the American West, 1905–1930. Corvalis: Oregon State University Press, 2001.

Werstein, Irving. Pie in the Sky: An American Struggle: The Wobblies and Their Times. New York: Delacorte, 1969.

Mark A.Lause

See alsoAmerican Federation of Labor–Congress of Industrial Organizations ; American Railway Union ; Knights of Labor ; Labor ; Lawrence Strike ; Socialist Labor Party ; Steel Strikes ; Strikes ; Trade Unions ; Western Federation of Miners .

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Industrial Workers of the World

Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), revolutionary industrial union organized in Chicago in 1905 by delegates from the Western Federation of Mines, which formed the nucleus of the IWW, and 42 other labor organizations. It became the chief organization in the United States representing the doctrines of syndicalism. Leaders included Eugene V. Debs, William D. Haywood, and Daniel De Leon. Its members were called, among other nicknames, the Wobblies.

The aim of the IWW was to unite in one body all skilled and unskilled workers for the purpose of overthrowing capitalism and rebuilding society on a socialistic basis. Its methods were direct action, propaganda, the boycott, and the strike; it was opposed to sabotage, to arbitration or collective bargaining, and to political affiliation and intervention. The organization spread to Canada and Australia and in a very small way to Europe, but its main activities were confined to the United States. It was especially strong in the lumber camps of the Northwest, among dockworkers in port cities, in the wheat fields of the central states, and in textile and mining areas. Of the 150 strikes conducted by the IWW, the most notable occurred at Goldfield, Nev. (miners, 1906–7); at Lawrence, Mass. (textile workers, 1912); at Paterson, N.J. (silk workers, 1913); in the Mesabi range, Minn. (iron miners, 1916); in the lumber camps of the Northwest (1917); at Seattle (general strike, 1919); and in Colorado (miners, 1927–28).

The IWW's stand against political action led to controversy among the members, with De Leon emphasizing the Marxist point of view as against those opposing political action. De Leon and his followers were expelled in 1908 and set up an independent organization, which was never more than a splinter group and was dissolved in 1925. In 1924 a split took place in the parent organization between the Westerners and the Easterners over the question of centralization.

At the time of World War I the IWW was antimilitaristic; its members were accused of draft evasion, of fomenting German-paid strikes in order to cripple essential war industries; of sabotage; and of criminal syndicalism. Many of its leaders and members were thrown into jail. Adding to the union's troubles was the fact that a great portion of the membership was made up of migratory and casual laborers, and it was difficult to organize them into a cohesive group. From a probable strength of at least 30,000 in 1912, the membership fell to less than 10,000 in 1930 and in the mid-1990s was less than 1,000.

See P. F. Brissenden, The I.W.W. (1920, repr. 1958); P. Renshaw, Wobblies (1967); M. Dubofsky, We Shall Be All (1969).

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Industrial Workers of the World

INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD

The Industrial Workers of the World—also known as the IWW, or the Wobblies—is a radical labor union that had its beginnings in Chicago in 1905.

An outgrowth of the Western Federation of Mines, the IWW was created by william d. haywood, eugene v. debs, and Daniel DeLeon. Its membership was open to all work-ers, skilled or unskilled, with no restrictions as to race, occupation, ethnic background, or sex. The Wobblies opposed the principles of capitalism and advocated socialism.They followed the tenets of syndicalism, a labor movement that evolved in Europe before world war i.The syndicalists sought to control industry through labor organizations. In their view the state represented oppression, which had to be replaced by the union as the essential element of society. To achieve their goals, the syndicalists advocated practices such as strikes and slowdowns.

The Wobblies adopted many of the ideologies of syndicalism and employed direct-action methods, such as propaganda, strikes, and boycotts. They rejected more peaceful means of achieving labor's goals, such as arbitration and collective bargaining.

From 1906 to 1928, the IWW was responsible for 150 strikes, including a miners' strike in Goldfield, Nevada, from 1906 to 1907; a textile workers' strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts, in 1912; a 1913 silk workers' strike in Paterson, New Jersey; and a miners' strike in Colorado from 1927 to 1928.

During World War I, the IWW began to lose much of its strength. Its members were against the military, and many were convicted of draft evasion, seditious activities, and espionage.In addition, many members left the organization to join the Communist party. By 1930, the IWW was no longer regarded as an influential labor force. Nevertheless, it still exists today.

Despite its radicalism, the IWW was responsible for several gains for organized labor. It brought together skilled and unskilled workers into one union; it achieved better working conditions and a shorter work week in many areas of labor, particularly in the lumber field; and it set a structural example that would be followed by future labor unions.

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Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)

INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD (IWW)


Founded in 1905 by the leaders of 43 labor organizations, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) was a radical labor union. The IWW pursued short-term goals via strikes and acts of sabotage and a long-term agenda to overthrow capitalism and rebuild society based on socialist principles. One IWW organizer proclaimed that the "final aim is revolution." Though small in numbers because of their extremist views and tactics (its membership probably never exceeded 100,000), the IWW members, called "Wobblies," attracted national attention. Railroad labor organizer and socialist Eugene Debs (18551926) endorsed the organization's anti-capitalist agenda and became one of its leaders.

Unlike the American Federation of Labor (AFL), the IWW organized skilled and unskilled workers by industry rather than by craft. Founded and led by miner and Socialist William "Big Bill" Haywood (18691928) and mineworkers agitator Mary "Mother" Jones (18301930), the IWW aimed to unite all workers in a camp, mine, or factory for eventual takeover of their employer's industrial facility. The union organized strikes in lumber and mining camps in the West, in the steel mills of Pennsylvania (1907), and in the textile mills of New England (1912). The leadership advocated the use of violence to achieve its revolutionary goals and opposed mediation (negotiations moderated by a neutral third party), collective bargaining (when worker representatives bargain with an employer), and arbitration (when a third party resolves a dispute). The group declined during World War I (191418), when the IWW led strikes that were suppressed by the federal government. The organization's leaders were all arrested and the organization dissolved. Haywood was convicted of sedition (inciting resistance to lawful authority), but managed to escape the country. He died in the Soviet Union.

See also: American Federation of Labor (AFL), Knights of Labor, Textiles

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Industrial Workers of the World

Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) US trade union; also known as the “Wobblies”. The IWW was formed in Chicago by Daniel DeLeon, Eugene Debs, and William D. Haywood in 1905. It was designed to combine both skilled and unskilled labour in one organization. The group, which advocated a socialist society and employed militant tactics, supported strikes by textile workers (1912) and silk weavers (1919) in e US. The IWW split up after World War I.

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